World Words is an installation of a comparative study of national anthems that comprises a list of 4 209 words (nouns) printed on 204.7 metres long paper, cut into 84 strips. The list of words is the resulting output of entering the lyrics of all existing national anthems in the world into an algorithm* that finds, selects and subsequently lists in groups all the words that are simultaneously used in at least two or more national anthems. All the lyrics had to be translated into English for the algorithm to be able to perform its assigned task, but the resulting artwork displays the words in the original language they are sang. The resulting gathered words where then compared and grouped according to coincidences. Since the work implied translations from the 100 original languages into English, and then back to the original, some room for interpretation and mistranslation was also created.

Some of the words featured in the list might be expected, such as all the ones that refer to country, land territory, homeland; even those related to war, combat, fight, struggle; the landscape references, such as mountains, valleys and beaches. Other words are more surprising, like the ones connected to family relations: mother, son, daughter; also, man and woman. Or the ones that relate to the body: hand, eyes, heart, even neck and hair; and also the name of some countries in a language that is not theirs.

The spelling alphabets, internationally used and recognized, originate from the two world wars of the twentieth century. These acrophonic alphabets (in which a word represents its initial letter) are used to avoid misinterpretations and keep errors to the minimum. It is not easy to find words that can be pronounced and decodified in different languages. Currently, the most used of these is the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet known as the OTAN phonetic alphabet which is used by civil aviation companies and radio amateurs throughout the planet. Nonetheless, the OTAN alphabet comprises a considerable number of words that clearly allude to Anglo-Saxon culture: from Foxtrot and Golf to Whisky and Yankee. Ironically enough, Juliet and Romeo (characters condemned to a tragic finale due to miscommunication) are also included.

Carla Zaccagnini produced the Applied Phonetic Alphabet as a proposition to create a new spelling alphabet that would include words of international significance, even if their pronunciation must be adapted to the phonetics of each different language. Some of the selected words, derived from Greek or Latin, were initially mythological or scientific concepts but ended up being used daily (such as Atlas or Flora); others are so specific to a certain culture that they tend to be used every time a reference to their connotation is needed (such as Harem or Ninja); and some seem to have become transnational due to the necessity of them being recognized by foreigners anywhere (such as Camping or Taxi).

The Applied Phonetic Alphabet presented here is the ninth applied version and it codifies a phrase that resonates strongly today under house isolation circumstances: “You say you are one, I hear we are many”.


*Algorithm development: Niclas Marelius. Research: Marie Raffn and/och Anne Eckersberg

Carla Zaccagnini completed her Masters in Poéticas Visuais at the Universidade de São Paulo in 2004, and is now Professor of Conceptual and Contextual Practices at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. She has taken part in group shows at LACMA (Los Angeles, USA); Guggenheim Museum (New York, USA); Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid, ); Malmö Konstmuseum (Malmö, SE); MAM (São Paulo, BR), among other institutions. Some of her most recent solo shows were at Van Abbemuseum (Eindoven, ND); FirstSite (Colchester, UK); MASP (São Paulo, BR). She has been in residency at 18th Street (Santa Monica, USA), Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin, DE) and IASPIS (Stockholm, SE), among others. Her work has been featured in the compendiums Cream 3 and Art Cities of the Future, and is represented by Galeria Vermelho (São Paulo). Carla Zaccagnini lives and works in Malmö and São Paulo.